As I glance out the window of our flight to El Calafate, a luminous glacial river carved into the rugged terrain caught my eye. The way it flowed from a Patagonian ice field, and the way it curved back and forth through the landscape was something I’d never seen before.
Less than 24 hours after meeting my Intrepid group and local leader Pablo in Buenos Aires, we were headed south, eager for our 15-day Patagonia Wilderness adventure to really begin.
Prior to traveling to Patagonia, I had done all of my travel independently and had never joined an organized group tour, so I was a little unsure of what to expect. I had learnt a bit about Intrepid during the research phase of my trip, but it didn’t exactly occur to me just how much of a mind-blowing experience this was going to be.
While I love traveling independently, I wasn’t sure that was the right move for me in this scenario. I was mostly hesitant about being alone on the trails in unfamiliar territory and getting from A to B with very limited Spanish language skills. However, I wasn’t going to let those things stop me from visiting a place that I had always wanted to see, so I found an alternative in small group travel.
A friend of mine decided to join the same trip at the last minute (which was a bonus for me!), and we still ended up going on an adventure of a lifetime.
Upon landing in El Calafate, we picked up our packs from the airport’s lone baggage carousel and regrouped before boarding a minibus for our drive into town. We were based here in order to visit Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few advancing glaciers in the world. I had seen photos and videos of the ice formation before, but like a lot of cases, neither could do the real thing much justice. As we looked out from the observation deck, I found myself in pure awe of the sheer size and beauty of the majestic structure that stood in front of me.
After seeing Perito Moreno from a distance, it was now time to get an up-close look (and feel) with a mini trek on the glacier. We geared up in our waterproof attire and had crampons fastened onto our hiking boots by one of the local trekking guides before we were briefed and led single file across a section of the ice.
I was still riding a nature high from my glacial experience by the time we arrived in the cute and colorful mountain village of El Chalten, home to world-class trails that attract outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. During our stay, we hiked two of the more popular trails in the area: Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Las Torres, with the former being one of the most scenic trails I’ve ever been on.
Not only was the final destination magnificent, but the journey was also a reward in itself. There wasn’t a moment where we weren’t treated with spectacular views of snowcapped peaks (including Mount Fitz Roy), blue glaciers and flourishing flora.
The views didn’t stop on the trails. On our drive from Argentina to Chile, I was perfectly content soaking in the landscape surroundings as we journeyed to Torres del Paine National Park. We would be spending the next three nights camping in the park, and going on a couple more hikes during the day. My favorite was an 18km round-trip trail to Base Torres where we climbed over boulders and marched up steep, narrow tracks to get to the base of Three Towers.
While we were already in the most southern region of South America, we still managed to travel overland to the very bottom tip of the continent and spent the last few days in Ushuaia, often referred to as ‘El Fin Del Mundo’, The End of the World (guide here). Here we hiked more, traveled by boat across the Beagle Channel and visited a colony of penguins on Isla Martillo – which is a must-do if you’re an animal lover!
New friends and more adventures
For someone who didn’t know what to expect on their first group travel experience, this trip really left a mark on me. Not only were the surrounding landscapes of Patagonia some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen, but I got to share them with people who were once complete strangers to me and who turned into friends that I’ve adventured to India, Nepal and Bhutan with. I still keep in touch with them to this day.
The weather in Patagonia can be very unpredictable. The winds are known for their strength and at times, can feel like they’re going to blow you right over. And just as the weather can unexpectedly turn bad, it can be bright and sunny again in the next few minutes too. For this reason, I’d suggest packing and wearing layers you can easily take off and put on.
A fleece, wind breaker and wet weather gear are musts (I brought both waterproof pants and a jacket which came incredibly handy), as are good quality, comfortable hiking shoes, reusable water bottles and a day pack while you’re on the trails.
Ready to explore this awe-inspiring part of the world? Check out Intrepid’s range of trip in Patagonia.
(Perito Moreno Glacier photo c/o April Wong. All other images c/o Intrepid Travel.)